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My parents are redecorating their house. So what? I hear you say. Yawn. Quite – I shouldn’t be bothered by this minor event. If anything I should show a little excitement for them, be hopeful that the experience doesn’t prove too stressful. But I can’t help feeling a little put out, somewhat sombre. Because it means the final goodbye to my old bedroom.

Yes, I know – grow the hell up, Gemma. And yes, it might have been a good few years since I could credibly claim that room as mine. But I think we can all agree that a childhood bedroom isn’t just a bedroom – it’s a whole world. A sacred sanctuary in the tumultuous experience that is ‘growing up’.

The passion those walls hold – they are so brave, so bold, so revealing. They reflect the ‘you’ that you aren’t quite yet able to be in the outside world. This is the place you allow yourself to be honest about your dreams and desires – about yourself – in a way you’d never dream of doing with those around you. Your parents watch you grow up through those walls. Look for clues to help them unravel what’s happening to you, to learn new things about the person you are becoming – otherwise impossible, since you stopped talking to them. Communicating only in grunts and through the lyrics of terrible music turned up tortuously high through hi fi speakers.

I am reminded of a surprisingly powerful film that explored the strange worlds of Depeche Mode fans around the globe, made by British filmmakers Jeremy Deller and Nick Abrahams in 2009. In Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union the band’s music has been treasured ever since it was available in the 1980s – only on illegal bootlegged cassettes. With an equally massive, but secret, fan-base in Germany the band’s music formed the soundtrack to the march to freedom as the Berlin Wall came down. And it all started in the bedrooms.

And so whilst I am (apparently) grown up, I still feel more of a connection to that room than simply using it as a space to stand in and talk to my Mom as she folds up some washing. It’s been torture, this whole extraction process. First, in 1996, they installed net curtains. There was the first gentle nudge. But I’m not a fast mover – 14 years later I finally leave home but, although I remove my physical self, my ephemera remains firmly put. Don’t even think about it, that stuff said, I am still Gemma’s property.

posters came from the walls editBut my parents are clever. They bided their time wisely – for the socially acceptable number of 5-years – before deciding right, that’s it. She’s definitely not coming back, ever, and we are claiming our room back. And although my stuff would remain in the room they used the space for something else. Primarily, to fold washing in. They packed up my stubborn ephemera into bags. Left the bags loose about the room – hinting. I didn’t take the hint… 18-months later I was asked to take the bloody stuff away. Humph. The CDs were the first to go. Then my posters had to come down from the walls – and that was the most harrowing moment.

I collected my wall contents in solitude, just me and my room alone again, as though I was conducting some kind of ritual. The ritual of letting go. Band posters, postcards, gig tickets, train tickets, club night flyers – it all came down and, because I couldn’t bear to throw it away, my wall now lives in a bag in a dark cupboard. I wouldn’t want to display those things now, because they no longer reflect me – but that doesn’t mean I want to forget that girl. This wall is like a photograph album, and more personal than any diary I ever kept.

And, this week, the last step. Mom and Dad have decided it’s not appropriate to have bright purple walls and a lurid green ceiling in an adult house, hence the total redecoration. Fair enough. At least they’ve gone to the extreme pretence of claiming to need to redecorate the whole house rather than just my room. But I am dreading going to see it. With that last bit of me gone my imprint will cling no longer.

Despite the angst, I do feel lucky. I had a very stable upbringing – literally, we never moved house once. And so no wonder I feel such a connection to that space. I wonder who used that room before I claimed it as my own in 1983? Did it once belong in another child’s heart? Were they forced to leave it for a new bedroom, a new home? If you have more than one childhood bedroom do you have one that is truly yours above the others?

It made me laugh and cry taking apart that room. But at least I can still return to it in my mind (and well, in my drawer). And who knows, maybe one day I’ll resurrect it somewhere else.

childhood, memories, nostalgia, bedrooms, music, Depeche Mode, family, parenting, growing up

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I was unexpectedly reminded of something moving and transporting the other day – the enduring power of the Christmas-number-one-single.

Not any of this new crap. Sorry One Direction, but I’m going to have to deride you again. For those who have blissfully avoided this year’s contender, let me enlighten you: “Everybody wanna steal my girl / Couple billion in the whole wide world / Find another one ’cause she belongs to me”

Hmmm.

No, I’m talking about the old crap. The kind we went to great pains to access. Simply clicking your music to your ears from the comfort of your bed / sofa? Pah! Remember the thrill of going into an actual shop and parting with actual cash to get your hands on – literally – a physical thing? Followed by gluing your ears to the radio (yes, radio) on a Sunday afternoon for the Top 40 Chart Show. Waiting breathlessly to learn if your heroes had made it to the dizzy heights of Christmas number one single. (They often did, by the way.) Choosing and buying your Christmas number one single was a real commitment. An event.

I was reminded of such festivities last week when, out of nowhere (well, ok – out of a YouTube Christmas playlist – but aren’t we all doing this now?), I was taken aback by the unmistakeable opening chimes of Westlife‘s 1999 Christmas hit ‘I Have A Dream’. Uncontrollably, I was  overwhelmed by an adrenaline rush. I actually flushed. This was obviously embarrassing – I was a little too old to be enjoying a boy band when the song first came out, never mind 15 years later. It was a genuinely weird moment because I felt so far removed from those emotions, that way of being, that time now. But it was made all the more embarrassing because I was in public at the time. Well, in front of my boyfriend who had so far been spared my reaction to Westlife.

But I couldn’t help it. That song immediately transported me back to sitting square-eyed in front of the television in my parent’s bedroom, where my sister and I would sit for hours and hours watching The Box (the channel…we’re not that old) where they aired the video on repeat for a whole hour. They did that with ‘2 Become 1’ in 1996 too.

Looking back, it was probably one of the most exciting times of my life.

Because – I don’t know if this is just for girls – innocently obsessing over a celebrity / band of celebrities / media personality is, for some, a way of being. It certainly was for me in a (long) period of my life. Boy bands probably made me the person I am today. No, really. I was the only one in my group of friends who did this obsessing, but where I was removed from our reality they became caught up in the grotty-ness of it. The fags, the disgusting sex, the vodka, the abortions. There is escapism, even protection in obsession. The pull of glossy media personalities in comparison to the reality of north Birmingham society is obviously irresistible. But, more importantly, the abandon, hope, fantasy, excitement, the romance (in your head) – it all keeps you going. It’s hard to get any of that from real life. Unless you’re into dangerous sports…which I’m not. Nor drugs. So, imagination it is.

Never did me any harm.

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